So when I’m not carving out elaborate water melon helmets for the stewardess
or shooting at pizzas with shotguns on the aft deck (it was either last nights pizza for a target or todays dolphin…. just kidding folks, no pizzas were harmed in the making of this blog)
or simply wandering around deck like Edward Scissor-hands with all my knives and a professional photographer to make slightly threatening crew profile pictures for future guests, I do actually do some work.
I’ve just returned to Tahiti with the yacht having just been on charter for 10 days in the Tuamotu Archipelago. And I shall now share with you, dear reader, some of my experiences while on charter on a yacht. However, as I have stated before, I cannot write directly about my yacht for reasons of privacy and the avoidance of being sacked. So the following is most definitely not about the yacht that I am currently employed on and only a village idiot would take any of the following as anything other than a great big load of made up attention seeking lies, *coughing, winking and nudging you with my elbow in an Eric Idle “say no more” kind of way*.
From my point of view as the chef, there are 3 main differences between working on a yacht down here in the Pacific and working on one in say the Med or Caribbean.
The first is the type of guest or owner that I end up cooking for. This is a very sweeping generalization but in the Med and Caribbean there seem to be a lot more partyers on the yachts. People who like to hare around on jet skis all day in-between bottles of Cristal and murdering hookers, then return to the boat and snort cocaine off a swan’s neck before being dropped off at Joel Robuchon’s in Monaco for dinner then heading to the Billionaires Club until 3am then bringing a troop of midget strippers back to the boat to party then demanding that the chef get his lazy ass out of bed to make them their favourite dessert of angel delight made from real angels and then offering 5 figure sums of money to crew members to perform sexual theatre with hookers to entertain the guests (this last scenario is actually happening on a yacht in the Med that a mate of mine works on pretty much as I write…..how do I know? Because he is filming it on his Go-Pro and streaming it online). You know the type. Where as in the Pacific people generally just come here to explore, dive and chill out. I like these people, they are usually nice people who treat the crew with respect and are polite and…you know…normal. Don’t get me wrong though, that doesn’t mean that I dislike the partyers. Anyone who wants to offer me 5 figures to perform sexual theatre with hookers in front of complete strangers is a friend of mine! Hell, I’ll do it for free! (Not really Mum, they’d have to pay me at least 4 figures)
So that makes a difference to me as the chef because the guys that I am cooking for at the moment are (touch wood) a lot easier to cater for, as they aren’t having meals at crazy hours of the day or night, or making insane requests of me. They will be up for breakfast nice and early then lunch at 1, dinner at 8 and I am in bed by 9.30. I can recall the complete opposite of that scenario when I worked on a yacht in the Med and some of the guests would party late and get up late, some of them would party late and get up early as they were taking all kinds of drugs and some would go to bed early and get up early. So the result for me was that I was doing about 3 different sittings for each meal starting at 6am for the first breakfast and sometimes finishing the third dinner service at 2am. I was some days serving half the guests breakfast and the other half lunch at the same time. That was hard work.
The second main difference is the lack of restaurants, bars or even towns out here. Part of the beauty of these places is that they are so untouched by civilization. Some islands and atolls that we visit on the yacht in the Pacific are barely inhabited at all. The result…all meals onboard. It means that I have to make breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the charter. In the Med and to a lesser extent the Caribbean there are plenty of opportunities to get the guests off the boat for lunch or dinner. I do like cooking for the guests, but on a two week charter, even one meal off the boat gives me and the other crew a chance to catch up and maybe get a couple of hours extra rest and regroup. At least I know where I stand and can plan for it. The last private yacht I worked on was Russian owned and they would often go out to dinner or lunch but I would never know what they had decided until half an hour before they wanted something. This is fairly typical of Russians and is something that I have now gotten used to. The result was that regardless of what the owners said they were doing, I would always prepare every meal incase they changed there mind. It was not unusual for them to leave the yacht dressed for dinner having told the captain to book them a table at a restaurant and then return to the boat 2 hours later and expect to sit down for dinner half an hour later. One particular memory that still haunts me is that exact scenario but when they returned to the yacht they had brought with them 2 enormous and very alive and angry king crabs along with a whole host of other random sea monsters. “Neil, cook zis’ for us as a tasting menu. Vee vil eat in half an hour!” The captain and me spent the next half an hour frantically wrestling with these 2 evil beasties trying to stuff them into a pot without loosing a finger in the process. Half an hour later dinner was ready and the guests loved it. (Later in this piece I talk about always having a back up plan, so some yacht chefs out there will be able to guess exactly how I managed to do that, but I’m not telling) I hate crab.
On that note, I get a lot of food brought back to the yacht here as the guests are usually doing a lot of fishing or even hunting. This is great as I am expecting it and there is nothing better for a chef than to get a whole tuna or wahoo brought to the back of the boat at 3pm. At 3.30 I have cleaned it and filleted in on the swim platform.
Then at 6.30 the guests who caught it are amazed to see it in front of them as carpaccio, sashimi, sushi or a local dish like poisson cru to eat with their pre dinner drinks as the sun goes down.
Or if they caught it in the morning then its seared tuna niscoise salad for lunch. This is where the tips come from, moments like that for the guests are really special as it is something that they never experience at home and it really stands out.
Another example of that sort of thing was one of the guests that we had onboard who was a highflying American businessman, owning several large companies. We were in the Marquesas Islands and I think he really wanted to get as far away from his stressful and high pressure life back at home as he could and really experience something primal and out of the ordinary. Also a story that he could take back to the boardroom and really impress with. So we arranged for him and his guests to go out across one of the islands on horseback and go hunting for wild pigs with a local guide. And not with guns either, with a bow and arrow.
I think they had a dream day. The men stripped to the waist with bows and arrows, hunting-dogs and rifles. The wives and girlfriends wandering where the next glass of rose was coming from. Soon the dogs had caught the scent and the hunt was on. Meanwhile, back on the yacht, I was wandering what the hell I was going to do if they actually caught something. There is a big difference between preparing a tuna to eat and preparing an entire wild pig. Apart from anything else, a wild pig that is caught that day and hung from a tree in the woods to be butchered by 2 locals with machetes, probably isn’t going to taste that great. Its not going to taste like a suckling pig that has been raised in Gordon Ramsey’s back garden and that has played with and frolicked with his litter of 7 children and eventually connected with them until it has become one of the family and learned to talk and herd sheep before being humanely cuddled to death so that Ramsey can make an episode of a TV series on perfect family Sunday lunches (Hi Gordon). No its not going to taste like that. It’s going to taste like shit. Its going to taste like a big old porker who has been chased through the undergrowth for 2 hours by a New York executive with a bow and arrow, and also some dogs and some men on horse back with guns and machetes.
It’s going to taste like a pig that has had a fight to the death with the first dog to catch up with it (piggy 1-hunting dog 0) and then finally succumbed to 2 arrows and in the end a bullet.
Thankfully I had a back up plan. As every yacht chef knows, you always have a back up plan hidden away in the freezer, fridge or dry store as on yachts you have to be able to pretty much cook any dish at any time. So I had a nice belly of pork that I had carefully and delicately slow cooked for 24 hours sous vide and then pressed in the fridge and scored the fat ready to be crisped up in the frying pan. I also had some brawn that I had prepared which is a pressed terrine type dish made from the head of the pig. I know it sounds pretty rank, but it actually tastes great. And finally I also had some perfect fillets of pork ready to roast to a nice medium pink. Throwing all that together I managed to turn his stinky old wild pig in to a delicious trio of pork.
Imagine the amazement of the guests when I managed to produce as part of the dish, 24 hour slow cooked belly, in just 4 hours. It was their favorite dish of the whole trip, partly I imagine, because they thought that they were eating what they had previously heroically killed. I did actually serve them up the wild pig later in the week as a terrine starter but only after I had slow cooked the meat for about 3 days.
The third difference is the way I have to provision for the charters. In the Med there are usually shops in most of the places we visit. Even if you are at anchor, you are normally a tender ride away from the supermarket and the bakery. It is also quite straightforward to get a provisioning company to get large bulk orders that might include specialty items to your yacht wherever it is. Out here in the Pacific, it is very different. No shops to speak of on a lot of the islands except maybe for a small store where you might be lucky enough to find a lime or maybe some breadfruit (don’t buy the breadfruit!). Very few airports to get stuff delivered to from Tahiti or other larger islands. So the result is that when we sail away from the dock in Tahiti, unless I am picking up guests on an island that has an airstrip, I have to have every item of food, drink and supplies already onboard. If I am doing a two week trip with 10 guests and maybe 10 crew then that is a lot of produce that has to be ordered and stored somewhere on the yacht. I can sometimes get a top up delivery halfway through the trip if the itinerary puts us in the right place but if the guests change their mind and want to stay somewhere longer or go somewhere totally different then that plan goes out of the port hole. Also, all the produce that we get flown out to places like the Tuamotus or the Marqueses has to be fumigated in Tahiti before it leaves to prevent the transfer of bugs that might disrupt the delicate ecosystems of these islands. And they only fumigate on certain days. Also most produce that is from outside French Polynesia like fish, meat and vegetables that one might be getting from the States or New Zealand or even France has to have an individual certificate issued before it is allowed into French Polynesia. Why are you ordering produce from France I hear you ask? Well if the guests have put on their preference sheets that they will only eat Dover sole and John Dory or that they want a specific Spanish ham then we have to get it for them. You might have noticed that yachting is not exactly very eco friendly.
I’m going to leave it there folks. That was just a little taste of what goes on onboard a yacht that is chartering. It is important to remember that what I have written is just based on my own experiences and sometimes those of my friends on other boats. Every yacht is very different.
More to follow soon I hope and thanks for reading.